Album Review — Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

[Editors note: This post originally appeared in Aug. 2018 on Fusion Country and is appearing as it was originally published. It’s being reposted here for reader visibility. It’s also one of the best releases of Kenny Chesney’s career, so it’s an album I definitely recommend.]

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10

The Hodgepodge: Country Music After The Mainstream Bubble Pops

Willie
After the mainstream country music bubble popping, the genre could finally rebuild and go back to it’s roots.

Last week in The Hodgepodge I laid out a prediction that mainstream country music’s bubble was about to burst. This week I want to further clarify what I mean and what I think country music would look like as a result. If you haven’t read last week’s Hodgepodge yet, you’ll want to read it before reading this piece. This is basically part two. What I mean by bubble bursting is that I think country music will cease to exist in the mainstream realm. I believe what’s been done to country music in the past few years, as well as right now is irreversibly damaging the format beyond repair as a mainstream genre. The big awards shows will disappear slowly, along with country radio stations. The amount of big labels will shrink and there will be more independent artists. This isn’t me predicting that country music will have another neo-traditional like renaissance or an outlaw movement. Essentially I’m predicting a country music apocalypse. I’m predicting the death of mainstream country music if they continue down the path they are on.

I think I got the point across now. So what would country music be like post-apocalypse? Well for starters lets take a look at the biggest names in country music. With the genre no longer a cash cow, no longer having a big radio presence and being relegated to second-tier status, I see many artists going to the pop realm. Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean would all go pop for example. They won’t find near the success they had in country music, but they can remain in the spotlight and are certainly willing to kowtow to whatever the popular sound is. Some of the bigger country artists I could see going to the rock scene. Brantley Gilbert could easily fit into the rock scene, as well as Eric Church. Their current sound has a lot of rock influences.

In post-death of mainstream country music, I think you would see a lot of lesser known acts fade into obscurity. Groups like Lady Antebellum and Thompson Square wouldn’t stand a chance in this new world of country music. Neither would bro country stars like Chase Rice, Cole Swindell and Thomas Rhett. They no longer have any kind of radio presence nor huge appeal, so there’s no longer a reason sites like mine would need to cover them. Only the best would get covered. Speaking of the best artists like Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Kacey Musgraves could all put forth their best country albums possible. No longer would they have to answer to labels wanting a radio hit. They can make the exact music they would want to make. No more fad or trend chasing.

This leads me to the independent country artists, Americana artists who make country music and older country legends still making music. They would benefit the most out of all of this happening because now they’re on more equal ground with the likes of the biggest names in country music. The battleground is no longer on the radio. It’s on the Internet, where all media is competing now. The two key aspects to your music being heard would be quality and promotion. The latter is something that is really key because many country artists struggle to have a great online presence. Whoever can nail both of those two key aspects would not only be the most covered, but the most popular. Country music would finally be judged in the most just way possible. It would encourage artists to put out the best country music possible and establishing a dedicated fan base would be of the utmost importance. See why I think independent country artists would benefit the most?

Ultimately I think country music fans would benefit greatly too. Many of you reading this are already taking to the Internet to find country music. Your habits and listening wouldn’t change much, if at all. If anything you’ll have more fellow people joining you in toasting the best of country music. Sites like mine could take the time we spent talking about the junk in the mainstream and use it to find more unknown country acts who deserve to be heard. I enjoy writing reviews on an act that deserves to be heard and doesn’t have a huge following more than some terrible, fad chasing mainstream country single. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn and I think that would be the case here. Country music needs to die as a mainstream format if it ever wants to fix itself and be country music again.

In this scenario the best artists would become the face of the genre. The likes of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Wade Bowen, Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves and others would lead country music like they should be now. Together these great artists could re-build the genre into what it once was in its heyday and continue it on for future generations in the manner it should be. This would take years to happen, but it’s something that must happen. If anything we should all be cheering for this to happen because everyone in the end would benefit. Well except for those fringe artists I mentioned, but that’s their own doing. Nevertheless I think the death of country music as a mainstream format would be the drastic change needed to save this genre. It would be painful to watch and tumultuous at times, but from the ashes country music would rise again reborn in its rightful image. In the words of founding father Patrick Henry, “give me liberty or give me death.” Country music isn’t going to give us liberty. So I guess there’s only one other option.

(Note: This is all pure speculation on my part and I could easily be wrong. Country music always seems to pull a rabbit out of its hat just at the right moment. But I do think this is a real possibility and I wanted to fully explore it. Who doesn’t like to explore hypothetic scenarios?)

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The long-awaited debut album of Chris Stapleton will finally be released next Tuesday. The album called Traveller, is currently streaming on NPR if you want to get an early listen before the release date. We’ll definitely have a review on it next week.
  • Shelby Lynne, sister of fellow alt country artist Allison Moorer, will release a new album next Monday titled I Can’t Imagine. If it’s anywhere close to Moorer’s album in terms of quality we’re in for a real treat.
  • Jason Michael Carroll will release his first new album in four years next Tuesday. It’s titled What Color Is Your Sky. The former Arista Nashville artist is hoping this album will launch him back into mainstream conscious. I’m curious to hear what he’s come up with.
  • Randy Houser has released the first single from his new upcoming album and it’s called “We Went.” You can currently stream the song on Rolling Stone if you want to give it a listen. Ryan is writing a review on this one.
  • Right now at Brandy Clark’s website if you sign up for her newsletter you get a free download of her new song “I Cried.” How great of a deal is this? If you’re a fan of Clark or free music head on over and sign up.
  • The eagerly anticipated sophomore album release from Kacey Musgraves has finally been announced. It’s called Pageant Material and will come out on June 9. This is definitely one of the more fascinating and interesting releases in mainstream country music this year, as her debut album won her a lot of hardware and praise from critics and fans alike.
  • More great news! Lindi Ortega’s new album is coming out on August 7 and it’s called Faded Gloryville. I’m definitely excited about this one and will provide more details about it as they become available.

Throwback Thursday Song

Jamey Johnson – “The Last Cowboy” – This feels like an appropriate one for this week’s Hodgepodge. Also I listened to some of Johnson’s catalog to wash the new Zac Brown Band album out of my head. I’m still salty and it’s going to take me a while to get over it. Arrgh! Also I’m looking forward to hearing Jamey’s new album, whenever it may come out.

Non-Country Album of the Week

Let’s talk about a great album, shall we? Like Lord Huron’s new album Strange Trails. If you’re into Springsteen type rock music, you’ll love this album. It also reminds me a lot of The War on Drugs’ album last year, except this album doesn’t have five different songs over seven minutes. There’s also some country influences on the album, most notably on “Hurricane.” I think a lot of you would like it and it’s worth checking out.

Tweet of the Week

Amen Reginald.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Fuck You Hunt Fans

Cobra brought to my attention this ridiculous review left under Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s fantastic new album. Now you know why I say so many terrible things about Hunt and his fans. It’s idiotic, trolling comments like this (and the horrific music of course). But hey Hunt fans might get their wish if my above prediction comes true. They’ll kill country music in the mainstream. But you’ll never take away great artists like Bowen and Rogers.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!